YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: New Jersey has joined 37 states and the District of Columbia in a $7 million settlement that resolves allegations that Google improperly collected private data from consumers for its Street View online map service.
New Jersey’s cut is roughly $147,000, which state Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said will be used to fund consumer protection initiatives.
The information collected was segregated and secured and will soon be destroyed, under terms of the settlement.
Other key elements of the agreement require that Google operate an employee training program about privacy and confidentiality of user data for at least 10 years.
It also must conduct a public service advertising campaign to help educate consumers about steps they may take to better secure their personal information while using wireless networks.
“This settlement is significant because it recognizes the privacy rights of individuals whose information was collected by Google without their permission,” Chiesa said.
He also said he hopes the deal “send[s] a message to the industry about the importance of respecting the privacy of consumers.”
Google collected data from unsecured wireless networks nationwide while taking photographs for its Street View service between 2008 and March 2010, Chiesa said.
Besides cameras that capture 360-degree imagery, its “view cars” were equipped with antennae and open-source software that the company acknowledged “collected network identification information for use in future geolocation services,” the attorney general said.
At the same time, he said, Google “collected and stored other important personal data being transmitted over unsecured business and personal wireless networks within range of those vehicles,” including telephone numbers, passwords, emails, video and audio files — and even medical records.
Google said it didn’t know personal data was being collected.
However, Chiesa pointed out that the company acknowledges in the settlement agreement that it “may have included URLS of requested Web pages, partial or complete e-mail communications, and confidential or private information being transmitted by network users while the Street View cars were driving past.”
Once it realized what was happening, the company said, it stopped collecting Wi-Fi data and immediately informed authorities. It also said a single engineer acted alone.
The FCC fined Google $25,000 for deliberately withholding an email in which the engineer referred to the practice with a manager — contradicting the company’s contention that no one but the engineer had any idea what was happening. The FCC also noted that Google didn’t break any laws.
Google has since disabled or removed the equipment and software used to collect personal data from its Street View vehicles, and agreed not to collect any additional information without notice and consent.
The Internet giant also said the so-called payload data wasn’t used — and won’t be — in any product or service, and that the information collected in the U.S. wasn’t disclosed to any third party.
Deputy Attorney General Alina Wells, assigned to the Division of Law’s Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section, handled the Google case on behalf of the State.
Connecticut was lead state in the investigation.
The others, besides NJ: Arizona, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
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